Friday, December 7, 2012

How Not to Freak Out 201: This Activity Will Change Your Chance of Dying

As you stumble out of the house party with your two drunk friends and your friend gets in the driver’s seat to drive you home in his ten year old semi-sports car, hopefully you realize this is a bad idea. When your drunk friend wants to see how fast he can drive down main street, because it’s 2 AM and no one is around, hopefully you realize this is bad idea #2. When you wake up a few days later in the hospital and can’t move your legs (if you still have them) and your family is around you crying and your friend is dead, don’t worry about it. You have the rest of your life to regret the decisions you made that night.

That is hypothetical, although it has probably happened. Everything from running on the sidewalk versus running on the street to buckling your seatbelt to smoking a cigarette to packing your parachute influence the chance that the activity you are about to engage in will result in serious injury or death or just a close call you walk away from and forget tomorrow. 

Risk management happens in milliseconds all the time every day, at least in my head. In fact, I feel I am pretty good at risk management. I was shown the risk management chart early in high school and thought about it a number of times since then.
The Risk Management Square
For example, a low risk low severity activity would be walking the dog on a leash on a sidewalk that you walk every day, low chance of a safety incident, chances are nothing would be worse than a twisted ankle and you could probably still walk home. A low risk high severity activity would be walking across a knife edge ridge with a 1000 meter drop on either side unroped. You are just walking, noting will probably happen, but if you do fall, you will probably die. A high risk low severity activity would be skateboarding or perhaps snowboarding, maybe even football. Chances are you will get injured, but it probably won't be too bad. On the high risk high severity hand are presidents, astronauts and ordinance disposal activities, and Russian roulette. Leaving people assassinated and blown up for decades. 

You do not have to whip this chart out and try to figure out where getting into the car with a drunk driver stands or the risk of going to Indonesia, but thinking about the possible consequences as well as the probability of those consequences will help you develop your acceptable risks. In other words, ask these two questions:
  1. What could go wrong in this activity?
  2. How likely are those things to happen?
Now, the hard part is thinking about the risk before you engage in an activity. Before people go out drinking alcohol for the night, how much time is spent organizing safe transportation? Before you put your car in drive or reverse do you put your seatbelt on and check your mirrors? Before you step off the sidewalk while running into traffic do you check behind you?

As an example, before going to Indonesia I did a little research. The major risks seemed to be militant violence, isolated toward the north of Sumatra, tigers, which are in decline, and sicknesses from the food, which did affect me a little. The first two had a very low risk of occurring, but would have been very severe had either one happened to me. The sickness had a moderate to high risk of occurring, but was not very serious. Those were, and are, risks I am ready to accept. 

Similarly when I went to Pakistan I put the chances I was involved in an incident with militants or the Taliban at 0.0X% but the chances I was involved in an accident on the mountain at Y%. As for things above my risk tolerance, Annapurna with a risk percentage in the double digit (AB%) range and Russian Roulette with a 16.7% chance of killing myself, per round, are things I do not intend to do. Of course, on occasion there are activities for which the risk is unknown. When Chuck Yeager broke the speed of sound for the first time people thought he might not survive it. Given activities with unknown risk chances, I would probably take the opportunity. That is me in a nutshell. Not everyone has the same risk tolerance. I don't see myself as a high risk taker, but I certainly do things that have deadly serious consequences.

My goal for this lesson in this series is to help you can make decisions ahead of time in a safe and level place about possible outcomes, often dying or simply life changing, so that when the moment comes that you are presented with the negative consequence of your actions you have mentally prepared for the possibility of those actions. 

To recap, your actions can have consequences. By simply taking the time to think about the possible consequences and likelihood of those consequences you can make better decisions. 

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